Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kids with Guns

Generations of American children have been accustomed to carrying and fantasizing about guns. Take my family lineage for example.  Grandfather McGee, as a child on Southern California farmland, routinely shouldered a Winchester 22 single shot rifle. Purportedly to shoot at pestering crows endangering crops during the Great Depression era. During WWII he volunteered for the Navy where his love of firearms never wavered. Despite having a Japanese not-so-sharpshooter take a couple shots at him down at the swimming pond while on some R&R.

Upon his return to the States he decided to enlist in the Baby Boomer project and thus my dad was born. Reportedly, my dad filled his summer afternoons as a tween discharging firecrackers and taking shots with his Red Ryder BB gun. With one errant BB striking and shattering a neighbor's window (I assume that energy efficient double pane windows had not been patented yet).

Flash forward to the 80's when GI-Joe action figures were on every boy's Christmas list and you have me roaming my neighborhood or friends' ranches with a non-projectile firing replica. It was a metal and wood lever action rifle purchased from Knotts Berry Farm. And mind you, this was slightly before the time when orange tips were all the rage. Not knowing the statute of limitations...I may OR may not have threatened the lives of Cobra sympathizers and the occupants of passing cars by failing to prevent muzzle sweep. Boys being boys, right?

Thankfully my dad realized that my interest in firearms would be best served by taking a firearm safety course. Fortunately the Hunter Safety Course had a component of firearm handling and safety discussion. So whereas I failed the course at age 8 (I attribute this to my active PETA membership), I  successfully passed at age 9 and learned a great deal more about safe firearm handling. One of my proudest moments is memorialized on a fading Polaroid. Little 9-year-old me holding a 22 caliber rifle almost taller than me, standing right next to dad and the range master.

Move ahead to Halloween-season 1998. It seemed perfectly righteous to go to High School dressed as Walker Texas Ranger (though in all honesty I never watched the show) complete with unloaded 38 brass on a Western gun belt and a stainless steel non-firing replica revolver (with orange tip painted over with a black felt tip marker). A very diligent Vice Principal noticed my costume during lunch and removed my prop from its holster to verify it wasn't real, then promptly returned it to me.

Move slightly forward to March 1999 and a modern rendition of MacBeth performed in class required 4 students (me included) to dress up in camouflage coveralls and ski masks pretending to do a drive-by shooting (while playing "Low Rider"). And they toted replica firearms with one student (not me) daring all by bringing in an unloaded pellet handgun. This was met with great applause from the English teacher. And did I forget to mention this was a Catholic school?
But after the events of Columbine that April...these behaviors were no longer socially acceptable at school or much elsewhere.

Now that I'm a parent I wrestle with what is the right course of action. How should I mentor my young children about firearms?

I think accompanying a MATURE child to the range, teaching firearm safety, and restricting unsupervised in-home access to guns until after they are age 25 are important principles. (I say age 25 because the parts of the brain that control impulse aren't fully formed until then and a serious mental illness should show its first symptom by that age.  These are my personal rules, not an endorsement of laws that would raise the minimum age to possess/purchase.)

But...what about toy guns including replicas, Nerf guns, and squirt guns?  What lessons were you taught? What values do you teach your children about toy guns?

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